Organ Donors Breathe Life Into Death Debate

Bioethicists weigh ethical, organ-transplant concerns
By Drew Nelles,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 5, 2008 8:41 PM CDT
Doctors' means of extracting organs from patients has revived a debate about when a person is actually dead.   (Getty Images)
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(Newser) – The art of extracting human organs has revived a debate about when a person is actually dead, the Economist reports. Forty years ago, the Catholic Church agreed with scientists that brain dead meant dead. But now that doctors are skirting that rule, harvesting organs from horribly brain-damaged donors who are technically alive, the Church is under pressure to put its foot down.

Some doctors want to rewrite a key rule in their favor. Ahead of an organ donation conference at the Vatican next month, two American bioethicists have proposed changing a donor rule, allowing doctors to harvest organs while the injured donor is still alive—providing the donor has given prior consent. Others say this is tantamount to breaking a doctor's key duty: to do no harm.